On being mindful of technology
Yoga and mindfulness teacher Lucia Cockcroft of Satvada Retreats explores how to keep sane in a non-stop digital world
Communications regulator, Ofcom, has found that adults in the UK spend more time consuming media technology than sleeping. An average of eight hours, 41 minutes, is absorbed in media devises every day, compared to adults sleeping for an average of eight hours, 21 minutes every night (which sounds rather more than the shut-eye time I know most people manage!) Whilst TV viewing still topped the list of technology-related pursuits, smartphone browsing is now a close second when it comes to filling our switched-on time.
The research spawned a series of worried articles musing on the potential woes of a nation addicted to smartphones, emails and technology in general, with all the implications involved – missing out on our direct, sensory experience of the present moment, communicating far less with loved ones, an inability to relax mentally. It is a debate that resonates with most of us on a deep level, whether we are aware of the pressures or not.
I teach a Mindfulness Meditation Foundation course locally, and the subject of ‘mindful use of technology’ comes up every time, with students nodding gravely, and in sympathy, when the conversation inevitability turns to keeping sane in a non-stop digital world. There are now whole conferences devoted to the subject, notably, San Francisco-based Wisdom 2:0: an impressive meeting of technology companies and leaders (Facebook, Google) and leading meditation teachers which came to Europe for the first time in 2014.
Max Strom puts it intelligently in A life Worth Breathing when he says: ‘We live in a unique time in history, both promising and ominous. As technologies continue to develop at an unbelievably increasing speed, it seems mankind is now maturing nearly fast enough to adapt. And so we find ourselves in a global crisis. Billions of people now covet the industrial world’s wealth and are replicating its system of modern consumerism as rapidly as possible. But what they are ignoring, perilously so, is the fact that as materially well off as the West is, we are also chronically living what Henry David Thoreau coined ‘a life of quiet desperation’.
There is no doubt we are living in an unprecedented age of stimulation. Universally-used computers have been around for only a few decades; emails for under 20 years; smartphones for less than ten years. In the history of the human race, ubiquitous use of technology has been in our lives in the bare blinking of an eye.
The digital revolution is a brand new challenge for us. No wonder most of us are struggling – often unconsciously – with how to manage our relentless switched-on culture. As it has been pointed out many times before, we are more connected, wealthier, materially richer than ever – and yet apparently far unhappier. Rates of stress, depression, anxiety are rife; in the UK, antidepressant medication has increased a staggering five-fold since 1991. Something is very deeply amiss.
But does major technology use necessarily equal unhappiness and stress? As with anything, there are no absolutes. Technology is an incredible tool, allowing us an infinite world of information at our finger tips in any one moment; allowing us to contact a massive network of people globally at any time of day or night; allowing us to share, and gather, information, at the touch of a button. When used sparingly, and consciously, technology connects, enriches and empowers.
The problems come when internet consumption is mindless; when it turns into addiction, as it so easily and seamlessly is, I would argue, for most of us. The plethora of media gadgets, and our constant peering at them, plunge is into a virtual world that takes us far away from our moment-by-moment experience of life. If your head is somewhere else, how can you truly be here, right now?
The constant giving and receiving of information leaves us feeling tired, depleted, divided, distracted, and often unable to sleep – yet (in the vein of true addiction) simultaneously wanting more.
Without awareness, the continual checking of devices leaves us far less connected to our children, friends and family. How many times have you walked into a café or restaurant and seen couples, or groups of people, sitting together, yet completely absorbed in their own technology-fuelled worlds?
The art of listening and speaking mindfully – that’s to say, being truly present to the other person – is perilously close to disappearing.
Yet, of course, all is not lost. With awareness, and – importantly – discipline, technology can remain our friend, rather than our foe.
Home practice: Using technology mindfully
Turn all devices off after a certain time in the evening. This allows you to wind down mentally, without the constant stimulation and the unhealthy glare given off by tablets and smartphones. Try having the last two hours of your day as a technology-free zone. Instead, read, talk, have a bath. Notice what difference this makes.
Similarly, do you really want to wake up in the morning and be instantly connected? Leave your devices downstairs, out of the bedroom. Make time instead for meditation, talking a walk, yoga, abdominal breathing.
Check emails at fixed points in the day. No-one needs an instant response (if they do, they will continue to expect one!). When out and about, turn your smartphone to aeroplane mode, or turn off the internet capability. Instead, pay real attention to your surroundings, through your senses.
Notice how social media usage leaves you feeling. Most research points to it making us feel worse, rather than better. Adjust your habits accordingly, but be strict and disciplined; habits are notoriously hard to break.
Have Sundays (and holidays) as a time for completely switching off gadgets. Notice things slow down, and how much more time you seem to have.
Explore mindfulness more
Yoga and mindfulness teacher Lucia Cockcroft of Satvada Retreats organises brilliant, accessible mindfulness and yoga retreats around the world. Find out more about them or contact Lucia directly from our reviews on Satvada Retreats in England and Morocco. You can also read Lucia’s thoughts on being mindful, on learning to meditate, on embracing resistance and on mindful travel in our Journal.